It's tempting to care for wildlife during the cold months, especially when animals appear to be cold or hungry, but wildlife experts are encouraging you to stick to feeding your pets. You could do more harm than good.               

“With our wildlife, they are actually very well adapted to be in the outdoors, and they're used to the changes in the weather as they naturally occur," Matt Vawter, Park Ranger at Harrison Bay State Park, said                

Unlike house pets, wild animals are built to survive and thrive during the winter.

"There's plenty of animals that stay perfectly active. There's animals that will sleep it off, like hibernation or brumation. They'll find a way to get away from the weather by going underground or in a den," Vawter stated.

Many birds will migrate if they are not comfortable in the climate. Some birds leave our area for the winter, while others migrate here from further north.          

Animals also adapt through changes in their coats. Deer have hollow hair that is used for blood flow in the summer to cool the deer, giving them a reddish color.

"In the winter, they look more grey, a more ashy color because the blood is shunted towards their core and that protects them from getting too cold. So, it acts like an insulating blanket around them," Vawter explained.

Deer adapt their diets during the winter, eating the bark of trees.         

Each animal has its own way to stay warm and be fed through the winter season.

"If we feed them our foods, those foods can actually mess up their natural gut chemistry and cause them a lot of discomfort. Or even cause them so much stress that they can get ill,” Vawter added.         

Feeding wild animals can keep them too close to a focused area when they should be naturally spread out. They can also become too comfortable with humans.

"If you go from feeding an animal to suddenly not because you take a trip or something like that, there actually is dependency issues that can arise. Because all the animals that were coming to the food you were providing, they now don't have that food, so it is more natural for them to forage on their own," Vawter said.   

Feeding wildlife is illegal in Tennessee State parks, and you could be charged with a misdemeanor.          

Georgia State Parks also say for your safety and to protect wild animals, you should not feed them.